I was lucky enough to get invited to a townhall meeting where Obama talked about the US involvement in Asia. The President gave a speech and I thought he touched on many issues which are close to Malaysia, from equality, rule of law, how democracy is not just about elections, to security in Asia. The audience loved it when he talked about equality, clapping immediately forcing him to pause. A particularly touching story was about an American teacher from Boston in Malaysia, who after the bombing, encouraged her Malaysian students to write letters to the victims, highlighting the people-to-people relations that exist between the US and Malaysia.

The audience also clapped almost every time he said a Malay word. Yea, cheap thrill. Every time he shouted “Go Blue!” at my university (he gave a speech at Michigan a week or two back), a tiny part of me would vote for the Democrats even though I am a libertarian.

I thought he set the tone for the townhall session. A good, critical tone. But it was not to be.

This was the chance of a lifetime to ask the President of the United States of America important questions at the time when the Trans-Pacific Partnership is under negotiation and the temperature in the South and East China Seas is rising, becoming the ground for the next Great Game. But it was wasted by ridiculously fluffy questions about his regrets, about his values, about “share with us how Malaysia can become a rich country”, about… what on earth is going on, ask real questions you sheep!

I was so frustrated that I raised my own hands, hoping that Obama would pick me. I wanted to show these people what a critical question would sound like. I had two questions in mind:

  1. How confident are you that the TPP would be closed given that you do not appear to have the Congress’ full support?
  2. What the US is doing to ensure resolution in the South China Sea will come through peaceful means?

But with about 300 people, the chances of me being chosen by the US President himself was less than half a percentage point.

There are other questions one could ask, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to Iran, climate change, North Korea to… oh god, the Pivot to Asia, to MH370, to the US position towards the sharia laws, to… plenty of real issues. This is the leader of the United States, the world’s superpower. Not Justin Bieber goddammit.

It was quite unbelievable the quality of questions asked. These guys cannot possibly have a university degree.

Obama tried to relate his answers to the bigger relevant picture, probably trying to make the questions respectable. I do not remember all the details. I think he made a statement about how a country could not possibly succeed if the minority in the population were discriminated against. Right there, a direct rebuke of Malaysia’s racial policies. There were between-the-lines messages in it. He tried to raise the standards I think. But there is only so much one can do with a terrible question. I meant, terrible questions.

So, here is how I feel. He gave a respectable speech but the actual townhall session itself was an utter, horrible disappointment.

Still, I am glad that I was there.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved
p/s — The White House just released the transcript from the townhall session. Judge the questions for yourself.

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